ATLANTA — Georgia Tech is entering back-to-back games against ACC Coastal Division co-leaders North Carolina and Virginia Tech with a chance to still contend in the race.
For that, much credit goes to Justin Thomas, the escape artist.
Thomas may have saved Georgia Tech’s season with the signature game of his career, including two big runs in the fourth quarter, in last week’s 38-35 win over Duke. He finished with 459 yards running and passing. Even he was shocked by the total.
“You don’t realize what you’re doing until the game is over and you look up,” Thomas said Monday. “You don’t really calculate it throughout the course of the game.”
With the Blue Devils leading 35-31, the elusive senior quarterback escaped a sack and ran out of the Georgia Tech end zone for a 46-yard gain to set up his go-ahead touchdown pass to Clinton Lynch.
Georgia Tech’s three-point lead was in jeopardy late in the game. On third-and-17 from the Yellow Jackets 21, he ran left and right through Duke defenders on a 50-yard gain before finally sliding to a stop at the Duke 29.
Coach Paul Johnson said Tuesday the intended receiver “was also pretty much wide -open” on the 50-yard run. But Johnson wasn’t complaining.
“Anytime he can pull it down and go with it, that’s great,” Johnson said.
Thomas finished with 195 yards rushing with two touchdowns and 264 yards passing with two more scores. The 459 total yards were the most for a Georgia Tech player since George Godsey’s school-record 477 yards against Virginia in 2001.
The huge game certainly gave North Carolina coach Larry Fedora reason to worry.
“The guy’s so explosive, I mean, he just proved last week, with his career best, that he can beat you with his arm or his legs,” Fedora said. “He’s electric when he’s got the ball.”
Fedora used the 50-yard run as an example Thomas “can make everything happen within their offense.”
Thomas was named the Walter Camp national player of the week and the ACC’s offensive back of the week.
Georgia Tech (5-3, 2-3 ACC) plays No. 18 North Carolina (6-2, 4-1) on Saturday before facing another road game at No. 23 Virginia Tech.
Thomas said he knows the compliments for his big game against Duke will end if he can’t come through against the Tar Heels.
“They remember you for your last performance, so I’ve got to go out there and I’ve got to keep playing hard and I’ve just go to match the intensity and keep moving forward,” Thomas said.
Thomas kept the Georgia Tech offense moving even though leading rusher Dedrick Mills was held out with what the school reported to be an upper body injury.
“Justin is playing better right now, and when the quarterback is playing better it makes everybody plays better,” Johnson said.
Asked about Mills on Tuesday, Johnson said “Physically he’s cleared.”
Asked if Mills still needs a different clearance, Johnson said “There usually is, isn’t there?”
Johnson provided no details but clarified that Mills had “not yet” achieved that clearance.
Mills, a freshman, missed Georgia Tech’s win over Mercer on Sept. 10 for a violation of team rules.